White Privilege Means Going for a Run

I’m on Facebook too much. I shouldn’t be on there at all, given what we know about Mr. Zuckerberg, but I am. And I’m on there too much.

I was talking to my son one day while we were doing yard work and he mentioned to me that he had unfriended a family friend on Facebook. I asked why and he said she’d asked what white privilege was. Now, knowing this person, I presumed my son was probably right to unfriend her, for his own mental health. But I also had a mental quandary about whether we should delete white folks who ask such questions. Do we miss out on teachable moments when we do that?

This is for white folks genuinely asking that question.

This morning I went for a run. I haven’t ran in a good while, and I’m horribly out of shape. I got up early, before the wife and boys, dusted off my running shoes and pocketed my inhaler. I took a moment to sigh as I knew I was going to get the itchy sweats today. You know the itchies you get when you haven’t worked out in a whole doggone year and everything starts opening back up? Yeah, I hate those. I was setting my playlist when I had my first oh-yeah-I’m-a-black-man moment of the morning.

Take your drivers license.

I’ve lived in my town for more than ten years, and lived in this neighborhood for nine of those years. I’ve taken walks and ridden bikes with my kids in this neighborhood. Our next door neighbor is the mother of a police officer, a good friend of ours. Our other neighbor is a singer, a first-degree black belt and basically one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.

This is my home. But I need my drivers license, just in case. Just to be safe.

I started my run listening to Run the Jewels 4. I’d heard it was a dope album but hadn’t found time to give it a full listen. I’ll admit I got tired fast. I’d probably gotten through a song and a half before I was internally cursing myself for deciding to run. I kept running though. I’m pretty proud of that.

Then I realized my error. I was wearing cargo shorts. I know, cargo shorts are not for running. They can feel heavy and uncomfortable. That’s not why I regretted wearing them though. I didn’t look like a runner.

You have to look like a runner.

Here I am running through a suburban neighborhood, in need of a haircut and not looking like a runner, in the traditional sense. Not smart. I changed my whole running path. I began scanning side streets to be sure no white people were leaving their house to go to work. I wanted to keep running because I’d committed to it but I didn’t want to be seen, because I’m me and they’re them and that could maybe get me killed. Probably not, but who knows?

I went well outside my path, and ended up running way further than I’d anticipated (yay me!). I saw an elderly black woman on her porch on her phone. We waved and I kept going. That was nice. That felt neighborly and normal. Normal feels pretty good.

As I made my way home, I jogged down a quiet street and felt the tired and sweaty pain of a good run. I mentally decided I would stop running at the stop sign. As I reached the stop sign I heard a door slam. I glanced over and made eye contact with an older white man leaving his house. I stopped because my brain decided I would stop there but then I regretted stopping. He didn’t smile or wave or afford me any reason to believe he was ok with my existence. To be fair I didn’t do any of that either, but I was a little distressed so forgive me. In my head another rule popped up.

Don’t stop running in front of a white man outside his house after you’ve locked eyes with him because he’ll think you’re running from something and trying to play it off but also be careful not to keep running either because then he’ll think you’re running from something and not trying to play it off.

You know… that old rule.

I got home. I didn’t die. I’m fine. All that stuff was probably all in my head. But the thing is, there was this man named Ahmaud Marquez Arbery. I hadn’t gone for a run since he was murdered, and I hadn’t thought about him specifically but I also haven’t stopped thinking about him. Maybe that’s why running around white people has me on edge.

Also, a town over from me saw protests outside its police station after a black jogger was reportedly racial profiled, asked what he was doing and where he was going by police. Maybe that’s why I brought my drivers license.

White folks, particularly those of you who go for runs, do you share those fears? Be honest. Do you share those fears? If not, you are privileged. Doesn’t make you evil. Just recognize that it exists.

Oh, and I sought out that Facebook post, the one asking about white privilege. I wanted to drop some knowledge and help a family friend out. I wanted to show my son that we don’t necessarily have to delete people for their lack of understanding.

Then I saw the post and all the vulgarity and ignorance peppering the question. All the racially charged assumptions. All of the comments about “they should” and “they need to.”

Well… dang.

Unfriend, it is.

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Chris Paicely

Chris Paicely

Storyteller. Believer. Partner. Father. Son. Digital Creator. Marketing Strategist for the Surge Institute. Founder of StoryPaced Media.